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Canadian oil: Pipe to Texas beats tankers in the Strait

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on Nov. 20, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
November 18, 2011 5:20 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline: Be careful what you wish for.

Environmentalists have been furiously fighting the plan to pipe Canadian crude oil across the Great Plains from Alberta to refineries on the Gulf Coast. The political firestorm has gotten so hot that the Obama administration recently punted the decision to the far side of the presidential election.

Northwesterners ought to be aware of a potential consequence of the project’s failure: That same tar sands oil could wind up getting piped west to Vancouver, B.C. – there to be shipped on supertankers through our very own and very vulnerable Strait of Juan de Fuca. China could then nail down long-term contracts for the Canadian petroleum.

A Houston energy company, Kinder Morgan, would love to do just that if TransCanada Corp. doesn’t get U.S. permission to take the oil south. It already runs a pipeline from Alberta to Vancouver; expanding the line’s capacity would be a tough but doable job.

It is wishful thinking to suppose that Canada wouldn’t be able to bring the petroleum to market if the U.S. route is blocked.

Demand for oil is rising, especially in Asia, and prices are expected to rise, too. Petroleum continues to be a crucial foundation of all industrial economies.

It will ultimately be replaced by more benign sources of energy, but that process is going to play out over many years. Until cleaner fuels become competitive, Canada and other oil-rich countries are going to find ways to get their crude to customers.

That’s an inescapable reality. The new, staggeringly long and difficult pipelines that carry petroleum across mountain ranges from the expanding oil fields of Central Asia attest to the relentless economics involved.

Given the fact that oil’s going to be around for decades, it’s far preferable for Gulf refineries to secure a supply from Canada – a friend and ally of the United States – than to depend on the likes of Venezuela and Saudi Arabia. To the extent that Canadian oil can undercut the exports and revenues of hostile and unstable regimes, so much the better.

The interests of both America and the Pacific Northwest argue in favor of the Keystone XL project and against the potential Alberta-to-Vancouver alternative.

Canada is dead serious about doing one or the other; Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other government leaders have made it clear that they will pursue the western route if necessary. The prospect of hundreds of supertankers skirting the Olympic Peninsula should be more alarming than a pipeline to Texas on dry ground.

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